By: AJ Molero
1999. I was a curious freshman, all set for reality. It was my first time to step inside the famous Vinzons Hall, a building bursting with energies from different molds of an Iskolar ng Bayan — the mavens, skeptics, freethinkers, activists — its synergy forming a community. With that sense of vitality and community, I got enthralled and found Vinzons both as a respite and a sanctuary from all the taxing demands of University life.
2000. It was a sheer coincidence I met a fast talker in Vinzons. He was a lanky young man with progressive thoughts. He was an Accounting dropout who chose education through street parliaments over ones that were limited within classrooms. He is Renato Reyes Jr., “Ka Nato” to us, then a Secretary General of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan.
Timely then that our organization was forming a movement in overturning President Joseph Estrada’s granted conditional pardon to Norberto Manero Jr. when “Ka Nato” generously offered to mentor our group. With his connections and substantial experience, we achieved our goal in the revocation of conditional pardon.
Starting out as friendly conversations outside the hall with some radical thinkers, I was invited for my first educational discussion conducted by the Gabriela Youth. There I had introductory teachings on the First Quarter Storm, student activism, 1972 Martial Law and its atrocities, Women’s rights, Social ills, Imperialism—all grounding to marches and demonstrations.
Curiosity paved way for more questions and I instantly marched to the Main Library to find more answers. I scoured for all the books that I could find about the movement, reading biographies of young martyrs Ed Jopson, Lean Alejandro, Eman Lacaba, Lorena Barros, Bobby dela Paz, and Ditto Sarmiento and some handbooks of Kabataang Makabayan. I was ferocious in finding answers. Learning the dangerous life all faced by these martyrs, I developed a simmering rage against the government and its armed groups.
I finally heeded an invitation to join a student protest. Armed with knowledge on activism, I shouted my first chant “Makibaka, wag matakot,” followed by “Pabagsakin si Erap” at Mendiola with my fellow Gabriela Youth, members of Kilusang Mayo Uno, League of Filipino Students, Anak Pawis, Karapatan and some familiar faces strutting the Vinzons Hall, all passionately shouting the same chants with our clenched fists up in the air. That moment, I realized that Nationalism and Patriotism are synonymous to revolution. And so I decided to embark on learning the Marxist-Leninist teachings with the guidance of my radical comrades. It was a long, often confusing mix of doctrines for I could not correlate the ideologies with my current reality and my religious teachings; that difficult process proved a salient message.
Fast forward to 2001. February turned out to be exhausting month for I was due on piles of deadlines. I was at the Bahay ng Alumni with a friend and about to ride the UP Ikot jeepney when I heard gunshots few meters away from my back. I had a strategic view of seeing the lifeless body, dripping blood strewn from the side steps where he was gunned down broad daylight. That man was Filemon “Popoy” Lagman.
According to news broadcast, he was ambushed and murdered by two unknown assassins. I later learned that at the height of the big split of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), he was the biggest critic of CPP Chair and founder Jose Maria Sison. Stories have been widely circulated and speculated that his former comrades of CPP carried out the assassination. That jolted me into realization. I realized that there is absolute lunacy in joining a movement wherein two warring factions, who used to be comrades, are now in killing sprees simply by differences of ideological perspectives. I simply resigned from the idea that there is patriotism in joining CPP because there is none. Sison is a conniving man who wants absolute power and uses proletariats in advancing his cause.
Months after, I refused invitations in joining student protests, educational discussions, or even interaction with anyone who supported such activities; I rejected all of their overtones. And in between those negations, they refused in accepting my NO. Surprisingly, they know my contact information by heart, “tambayan”, schedules, and some of my friends. They can be annoyingly persistent because they need growing numbers for their cause. I simply refused the coaxing. And I absolutely rebuffed listening to stranger’s whispers and sweet talks.
Years later, I learned that some of my batchmates from the educational discussions were dropouts, missing in action, or rarely ever seen and heard from by their families. And I wonder, is that the way a supposed progressive, patriotic Iskolar ng Bayan ought to live? How sad that they are still listening to a stranger’s whispers.